Loyalists of Jordan's king deny link to violence

AP News
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Posted: Mar 31, 2011 10:58 AM
Loyalists of Jordan's king deny link to violence

Supporters of Jordan's king on Thursday denounced reports alleging they were behind bloody clashes that left one person dead in the worst violence in three months of protests in this key U.S. ally.

Clashes between protesters demanding reforms and government supporters also left 120 injured last Friday in a central Amman square after security forces charged the two sides, which had been pelting each other with stones.

Protests in Jordan have generally been smaller than those in other Arab nations and have not sought the ouster of the country's leader, King Abdullah II, but rather are calling for a series of reforms, including the popular election of the prime minister.

Human Rights Watch on Monday cited six witnesses at the square saying that hundreds of government supporters attacked the tent city set up by the March 24 pro-reform protesters. The youth movement's sit-in was modeled after the one in Egypt's Tahrir Square that eventually toppled the president there.

The New York-based watchdog said the witnesses gave consistent accounts about how the police failed to stop the violence against pro-reform protesters and in some cases even joined government supporters in attacking the reformers with rocks, sticks, and water cannons.

But Ismail al-Sheikh, the founder of the pro-government Nida al-Watan (Patriotic Call), denied Thursday that his followers were behind the attacks.

"We condemn what has happened and we are against violence," he said, maintaining that his group was just a public gathering of Jordanians from different political and ethnic backgrounds calling for reform, though not the popular election of a prime minister.

They believe the king's powers should not be diminished at this time, he said.

Al-Sheikh said the group was formed after activists and pro-government supporters clashed on Feb. 18 in downtown Amman in order to avoid another violent incident taking place.

"People should not launch accusations at random," said Nida spokesman Emad Shihab.

"Even if witness accounts are correct, the violence could have been carried out by individuals. But we do not support this, nor do we accept blame," he said.

Human Rights Watch has asked civil prosecutors in Jordan to open an independent investigation into "allegations of excessive use of force" by riot police.

It said Jordanian security forces have a "dismal record" of accountability and "cannot investigate themselves."

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Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.